Leaving Ocean Road by Esther Campion

In brief: Ellen is at a loss after the death of her husband. But when her first love Gerry appears at her home in Australia, she begins to heal even though his presence brings to the fore some long held secrets…

The good: Beautiful combination of settings and loved the Irish sayings.

The not-so-good: Some problems were dealt with really quickly compared to others.

Why I chose it: Thanks to Hachette for the copy, I love a warming read.

Year: 2017

Pages: 353 (ARC)

Publisher: Hachette

Setting: South Australia, Ireland and Greece

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

I think there are a lot of people out there looking for someone who writes heart-warming stories like the late Maeve Binchy (myself included). Esther Campion could be that person. In her debut novel, Leaving Ocean Road, she combines warmth, love and loss wrapped up in a story that crosses both Australia and Ireland. It’s a solid debut that shows great promise.

When we first meet our main character Ellen, she’s in the depths of despair. Her husband died suddenly, and she’s finding it exceptionally hard to hope with her grief. She’s not cleaning, driving or working. It’s up to teenage daughter Louise to check in on her mother each night. It doesn’t look like anything will change soon, until a letter from Ireland drags Ellen back to the real world. Her first love Gerry is coming to Australia and he’d like to catch up with her very, very soon. (This is what happens when you don’t check your post box in country Australia for weeks). Gerry is just what Ellen needed, a tonic that gives her the energy to live again. But unbeknownst to him, Gerry brings up many memories and uncovers decades old secrets. In turn, Louise becomes very upset and angry with her mother, driving a rift between them. But now Ellen is determined to once again take hold of her future, which may just have Gerry in it.

I loved the Irish sayings in Leaving Ocean Road, perhaps made more poignant by an Irish friend of my own going back home. There’s lots ‘eejits’ and ‘it’ll be yourself then’. You can’t help but smile at then, particularly when the conversations are combined with the familiar Aussie slang. The combination of the two countries is just right – both are warm, friendly and inviting meaning that the story has a feeling of familiarity no matter where. (We won’t talk about the weather). I don’t know which setting I enjoyed more!

The characters are another highlight of Leaving Ocean Road. They are clearly differentiated, right down to all of Louise’s uni friends. Each character has their own quirks and failings. (Another reason I liked them so much – they aren’t afraid to try, then fail, like both Ellen and Gerry). Even in the midst of her grief, Ellen is an intriguing character. She gives the reader just enough to be interested in what happened and the feeling that grief won’t overwhelm the story. I don’t think I need to say too much about Gerry besides he’s a lovely Irish gentleman with a twinkle in his eye. He does have the habit of giving up just that little bit too easily on occasions, which is fortunately what good friends and family pick up on.

As for the narrative, it covers a lot of ground both in physical distance and emotionally. There are many themes here and occasionally I felt that some of the little hiccups in Ellen and Gerry’s lives were resolved a bit quickly. For example, Gerry’s brother hasn’t been honest with the taxman, but it never becomes a big deal. It’s mentioned, exclaimed over and then fixed. There’s also an idea Ellen has of fixing up an old cottage – at first she’s heavily invested, organising everything and then after a chat with Louise, everything goes cold. The major dramas though are thoughtfully written and explored.

I look forward to reading more of Esther Campion’s work. I feel that her writing is only going to get more and more wonderful.

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